Micah Perks is a Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she co-directs the Creative Writing program. She’s written four books, her most recent being a collection of linked short stories entitled, True Love and Other Miraculous Dreams of Escape. Her work has been published in Tin House, Zyzzyva, The Massachusetts Review, and many other places. We were delighted to have the opportunity to interview Micah as her new book was about to be released. Thank you, Micah!
You can see Micah at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire, on Saturday, October 13 at 7:00 pm. Micah will also be in conversation with Peter Orner at The Norwich Bookstore on Wednesday, October 17, at 7:00 pm.
Literary North: Tell us a bit about putting together your new collection of linked short stories, True Love and Other Miraculous Dreams of Escape. What threads were you following throughout this collection?
Micah Perks: These are stories I originally wrote over a period of fifteen years. When I went to put them together, I realized there were characters who were similar to each other—like a bald Latin American guy with great teeth who was sometimes an Argentinian scientist and sometimes a Chilean professor and sometimes a human rights activist. (My husband is a bald Chilean guy with great teeth.) I realized they were basically the same guy, so I started there, making them the same guy, and everything lead from there—if he's the same guy, then his children are the same people, his storyline needs an arc, and after six months, I had a linked collection. All the stories are about the longing to forge close connections and the longing to escape. This is something I've been writing about all my life. I think it's a very American dilemma—from the very beginning we have wanted to create a shining city on a hill and as soon as we created communities there were people who wanted to light out for the territory ahead of the rest. We've imagined utopia in an ideal community and also utopia in an escape from those communities.
LN: What influences have shaped you into the writer you are today?
MP: Growing up on a commune in the Adirondack wilderness. My escape artist father and my ever loving mom. And I've always loved reading. I read a lot. The books that made me a writer were C. S. Lewis' Narnia series and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. One about finding the perfect world, the other about escaping stifling domesticity.
LN: You've written essays, memoir, and fiction. How does the genre you're working in affect your writing process?
MP: If I'm writing memoir, it's because I want to focus on issues of truth and memory. I always contact the people I'm writing about and ask for their point of view. Often I write their point of view into the memoir. My fiction is usually a blending of historical research, experience, and imagination.
LN: What brings you joy?
MP: Great question! Kayaking. Biking. Nature. Reading and writing. My students. My children. Eating delicious things. Lying at night talking face to face with my husband, laughing over cocktails with my friends. Any combination of these things. I biked from Berlin to Copenhagen in June with my daughter after she graduated from college. That trip included the biking, the laughing, my daughter, the nature, even sometimes a cocktail. It was very joyful.
LN: What was the most memorable thing you've read in the past month?
MP: Another great question. I'm reading Valeria Luiselli's Faces in the Crowd right now. I LOVE the way she moves between past, present, and a fictional time/place. Brilliant. And the dialogue of the young boy is really funny. I love funny kids. I love books that make me laugh, feel sad, think. This book does all three.